UK Mountains

"Three Peak Challenge" (3PC08) Aug 16-17 2008

Descending Ben Nevis

Descending Ben Nevis
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On March 28 2008, I received an email from my friend Matt, inviting me to join his National Three Peak Challenge private team in August. This sounded very tempting. In addition to this being a slightly crazy project - the highest peak in Scotland, England and Wales in less than 24 hours - it was also an excellent opportunity to get two new country high points (I had already been to Ben Nevis. Twice). There was no doubt in my mind. I wanted in.

Our project was not part of the organized events where huge crowds roam across the three peaks. But as the month would be August, there would still be several other private teams setting out for this challenge. Our team consisted of 7 people; Jim would be the designated driver, Anna and Louise would head up the logistics department, while Matt, Joe, Olof and myself would do our bit on the trail.

I flew over to England on the evening of Aug 15. Matt picked me up at Gatwick airport. This was no small gesture, as the drive from Birmingham and back takes 4-5 hours. After some years where I haven't traveled much, it felt good to be on the road again. Literally. Matt drove a MR2, which made the drive even more enjoyable. At their house in Birmingham, the logistics team (Anna & Louise) seemed to have everything under control. Matt has already picked up the rental car - a 7 seat Ford Galaxy. I felt home right away. I've been so well received by everyone in this family, which I got to know much better during their stay in Sykkylven this summer. The climb to Bladet being the highlight of several nice scrambles and climbs.

To Scotland

Roll call was at 7am on Saturday morning, and a bit later Jim - the team's chauffeur arrived. And fairly on schedule, we were on our way to Scotland around 9am. Racked, packed and stacked. Matt drove the leg up to Scotland, and had to take some friendly heat for the rental car's very limited trunk capacity. But if there is a will, there is a way, and we soon got fairly well organized. 

To me personally, this trip was much more than the Three Peak Challenge. I was finally on the road again, and, not least, with good friends. And now I also was about to see quite a lot of Great Britain, in addition to getting three country high points. Unless something unexpected happened, that is. And that was perhaps the biggest challenge as I saw it. I had no worries about the others. They were fit enough for the physical part of the challenge. But we would need to avoid major traffic jams and road accidents. Besides that, we should more or less be in control of our own destiny.

During a "pit stop" on the way to Scotland, we celebrated Olof's birthday. He was surprised and pleased. The logistics team had brought a cake, but no knife. A mild touch of ingenuity came across me, and my YX master card made sure that the cake was evenly distributed.

  The National Three Peak Challenge (click the link for the official website) is about hiking Ben Nevis (1344m - highest in Scotland), Scafell Pike (978m - highest in England) and Snowdon (1085m - highest in Wales) in 24 hours or less.

You can participate in organized events or organize your own event. The majority of hikers belong to privately organized grops.

The "rule of thumb" is 10 hours of driving, 5 hours for Ben Nevis, 5 hours for Scafell Pike and 4 hours for Snowdon. Driving in less than 10 hours is not considered Good Sport, as it would mean you're breaking speed limits.

The driving route

The driving route
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All of the peaks are easy to reach on the normal routes (YDS class 1), so the real challenges are found within planning, your physical condition and the teamwork.

You'll be walking roughly 40 kilometres, and the vertical gain is 3000 meters. However, the estimated hiking times up and down the tops are reasonable, and you don't have to be a superman or superwoman to take on this challenge. But it would help to be reasonable fit. Visit the official website for more information.

On the way to Scotland

On the way to Scotland
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Ben Nevis

Well before 5pm, and still on schedule, we arrived at the Nevis trailhead outside the town of Ft. William. The driving
distance was 432 miles. The forecast had mentioned rain, but the weather in the Scottish highlands seemed to have settled. 5:05pm, we were on our way up the mountain. The pace was excellent. We took turns in being the hare, making sure that the pace stayed good. It didn't take long before we began passing people. This alone was good motivation. For me, at least..

It was nice to be back in Scotland again. I did Ben Nevis twice in one week back in 2002. I remembered the last hike best, where I tried to catch up with a Dutchie wearing jeans. The 2002 hike to the top took me 1h:45m. Compared to that time, (which was no point in itself) our group was only 20min behind, halfway. I was quite impressed by that, given that there were 4 of us. Matt, Joe and Olof continued in the same pace all the way up to the summit, which we reached 7:10pm, 2h:05m after leaving the trailhead. As expected, the summit was fogged in. Just before the top we caught up with a hiker who said "I thought I had a good pace until you guys came along". And this was not the last time we saw him on this trip. After 10 minutes, and after the mandatory summit pictures, we headed back down. After passing numerous hikers on the way down, we were back at the trailhead 8:40pm.

Total time up and down Ben Nevis (incl. pauses) was 3h:40m. Walking distance was 16,5Km and the vertical gain was approx. 1300m. Everybody was in good mood and no one was screaming MEDIC! So far so good..

On Ben Nevis

On Ben Nevis
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Scafell Pike

Fairly soon after returning from Ben Nevis, we were on our way to the Lake District in England, enjoying a hot meal served by the logistics team. Jim was now driving, with some help from the GPS woman. I had never driven using a oral GPS system before, and I was mighty impressed by the precision. She never said "Make the turn" one second too early or one second too late. It was always right on time. My personal mountain experience with handheld GPS devices did not suggest that such perfection could be expected.

Daylight was fading fast. Some did not want to sleep, some tried to sleep and some slept. I would have liked to get some sleep, but I wasn't able to. On the other hand, I didn't really want to miss out on anything either. Instead, I ended up explaining everything the others never wanted to know about the concept about primary factor.

We arrived at the Scafell Pike trailhead before 3am. The odometer read 705 miles (from Birmingham). It was dark, it was raining, and the mountain was foggy. But that was OK. The limited space in the car made it all the more easy to get started again. Matt (and Anna too) had done both Scafell and Snowdon, which was good in terms of quickly locating the trail. We headed out 2:50am, all wearing headlamps. We could see lights up on the mountain, and more cars were moving in.

We moved easily up the mountain, but had some routefinding challenges when we entered the fog. The headlamp blinded us, and we would have to look closely for the trail. A team of 10-11 people was ahead of us, moving rather
slow. Another team had just passed, coming down from the mountain. One guy reported that the weather was "just horrendous". This was interesting. Was it that a) we were heading into an inferno, or b) the inferno had
passed, or c) this guy wasn't used to rainy, dark and foggy mountains? The answer was either b) or c), because the weather wasn't bad at all. Light rain(showers), fog and no wind. Absolutely nothing to complain about.

The top was reached 4:40am, 1h:50m after leaving the trailhead. We did a few high-fives, and Olof established the fact; "halfway there!". We didn't hang around and descended just before the other team arrived on the summit. Multiple screams of shear relief made me wonder if a) our group needed to cheer up a notch, or b) the other group was truly facing challenge in making it. "We probably should be celebrating a bit more", I said. "You're probably right", they answered. Not much else was said.

To better see the trail, we turned off our headlamps. Focus was now to avoid twisting ancles. Matt fell quite bad, and landed on his shoulder or arm. It probably hurt like hell, but it didn't seem to affect him. He did however mention a broken foot on several occasions. I assumed the wear and tear had begun. Daylight came fast, and once we were out of the fog, I could even take some pictures without using the flash. We then met the hiker we caught up with on Nevis. We chatted briefly and parted with "See you on Snowdon". We also said Good Luck to several other parties on their way up, before arriving at the trailhead 6:20am.

Total time up and down Scafell Pike (incl. pauses) was 3h:30m. Walking distance was 10Km and the vertical gain was 900m. Morale was now very good. Only one mountain to go! The logistics team had got some rest, but had also prepared hot tomato soup. To be served in the car, of course. After all, this was no picnic...

On Scafell Pike

On Scafell Pike
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We were now on the way to Wales, and once we had left the curvy roads behind, tomato soup was awaiting. Joe (18) was given the task to hand out the portions. But Joe's body decided to take a well-deserved nap, and he was instantly out. When Jim had to make a give way for a meeting car (these roads were truly single-laned), disaster occured.

I didn't really see what happened, but bad, bad, bad language from the front seat told me that something was not according to plan. Everyone was stunned. I don't know if it was because Joe unveiled a vocabulary that just had to surprise his parents, or if it was disbelief from watching the soup all over Joe, partly on Jim and on the console. In any case, Joe's main message was that the soup was hot, and that we wouldn't get any.

It was early morning in the Lake District, and Joe had stripped down to his underwear outside the car and next to a B&B place. People inside the house were looking out the windows, and had to be wondering what was going on. I could easily imagine what was being said inside; "There's a car full of people, there are orange-colored paper towels all over the place, and a young lad, almost naked, is standing outside. For the love of God - if the doorbell rings, don't open!"

After recovering from this minor disaster, we moved on. Anna took full responsibility, having watched her son fall asleep with the casserole in his lap. Without doing anything about it. Now that Joe was in the clear, his good mood got restored to the normal level. The logistics team had brought a ton of sandwiches, so no one would hike Snowdon starving. Anna was also reading out loud from Dagens Næringsliv, the newspaper I had brought from Norway. Both Anna (from Holland) and Matt speak (and write) Norwegian. They're true friends of Norway!

We arrived at the Snowdon trailhead just after 11am. The odometer read 920 miles (from Birmingham). The parking was full, so the hiking team was quickly unloaded in a bus-lane. This would not be a sunny walk, but the weather was not at all bad. Just light rain and no particular wind. We headed out 11:30am, and discussed whether we should hike across the Crib Goch ridge or follow the trade route. Incoming fog, rainshowers, slippery rock and an open question about the time it would take made us go for the trade route.

Everyone was still fit and in good mood. Matt is the type who I imagine would survive anything. Joe was .. well Joe was 18, with the boundless energy that should go with that age. Olof was clearly facing a challenge with the fast pace, but had no problems with keeping up, still smiling from one ear to the other. They all impressed me hugely. I mean, walking mountains is what I do, all year around. And even if I wasn't physically tired, I definitely felt it in my legs. I figured the same would apply to the others too, but it didn't show.

We arrived on Snowdon 1:05pm, 1h:35m after leaving the trailhead. The summit was overcrowded, as it turned out that the annual Snowdon race took place on this day. I felt a bit sorry for them, as they certainly weren't dressed for even a short stay on a wet and foggy summit, at almost 1100m elevation. And to my surprise, I noticed that a railway ran all the way to the top! After the summit picture, we headed back down. We were doing good regarding the time and chose to descend via the reservoir. It would cost some extra time, but it didn't matter much and it was nice to do a round trip walk. On the way down, we passed the hiker we met on Nevis and on Scafell Pike. He was in good shape and would certainly make it under 24 hours. We arrived at the trailhead 2:45pm, and we had to wait a while before the logistics team appeared (they had assumed the hike would take longer, and we weren't able to send a text message from the mountain)

Total time up and down Snowdon (incl. pauses) was 3h:15m. Walking distance was 12,5Km and the vertical gain was 750m. Our Three Peak Challenge time was 21h:40m. We had walked 40 kilometers and ascended 2950 meters in 10h:25m. Our on-the-road time was more than 10 hours, according to the statute. There were no screams, but good handshakes and bear-hugs.

The team on Snowdon, Wales

The team on Snowdon, Wales
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Ahead of us was a 120(+)km drive back to Birmingham, and when we arrived at the house, we had been on the road and the trail for 34 hours, driving 1058 miles. And we had certainly earned beer!

I took the 3rd beer up to my room and went to bed around 10pm. I sent a couple of text messages and took some notes. More notes were taken, but now I felt a bit strange. The cellphone clock said 3am. I still hadn't finished the beer, so the clock had to be wrong. When I sent the last text message, I felt even more strange. The cellphone clock said 5:30am, and whatever the time was, I decided to finish the beer. It was a bit strange snapping in and out like that, but now I decided to put the pen aside and slept until 9am. Anna told me she found it odd that I chose to sleep with the lights on....

Back home

Matt drove me to the railway station in town, and I got on the 3:27pm train. In order to reach Gatwick airport, I had to take three different trains, but was it was quite fun. The Birmingham - Watford Jct. train held a very good standard. At Watford Jct., I got on the Clapham Jct. train, passed through central London and at Clapham, I got on the final train to Gatwick. My plane to Ålesund didn't leave until 21pm, so I had lots of time to kill at the airport. 8 hours after leaving Matt & Anna's house, I was back in Ålesund. My 3PC08 trip was now official over. Many warm thoughts go to Anna & Matt for inviting me into their home and on this trip.


The pictures were taken with a Canon EOS 300D + Canon EF-S 17-85mm IS USM F 4-5.6

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To Scotland

1. About to leave Birmingham 2. The GPS system 3. On the road to Scotland 4. Life inside the 3PC08 vehicle 5. Surprise cake for Olof 6. The masterpiece 7. Note the credit card 8. Interesting architecture 9. How are we doing? 10. The GPS woman had a better overview.. 11. New towns and places 12. This HAS to be Scotland.. 13. In the Scottish highlands 14. Necessities 15. At the Nevis trailhead 16. Group pictures

To Ben Nevis

0A. Ben Nevis route profile 17. On the way to Nevis 18. Yup! This looks right 19. Good pace up the mountain 20. A bridge. Where is the river? 21. Leaving the lowlands behind 22. Short break near the lake 23. View from the trail 24. Heading into the fog 25. Keeping up the pace 26. On Ben Nevis summit

Descending Ben Nevis

27. Descending Ben Nevis 28. It was quite a nice evening 29. Sunset on Nevis neighbours 30. On the way to England. And into the night

To Scafell Pike

0B. Scafell Pike trail profile 31. Scafell Pike trailhead, in the middle of the night 32. On the way to Scafell Pike 33. Scafell Pike summit

Descending Scafell Pike

34. Crossing a river upon descent 35. A new day is dawning 36. It is a nice morning 37. The Scafell Pike trailhead 38. Returning to the trailhead 39. The moon 40. River crossing 41. Cool sheep (I) 42. Cool sheep (II) 43. Looking back on the Scafell Pike mountain

To Wales

44. Left! Right! No, I mean left.. 45. Soup disaster 46. This guy will never work in a restaurant.. 47. Drying wet clothes 48. The Snowdon trailhead 49. Part of the Snowdon massif

To Snowdon

0C. Snowdon trail profile 50. On the way to Snowdon 51. View up the mountain 52. Trail junction 53. Part of our Snowdon route 54. Few challenges on the trail 55. Olof on the way to Snowdon 56. A railway runs up Snowdon 57. Snowdon summit 58. The Snowdon cairn 59. View down from Snowdon summit

Descending Snowdon

60. The annual Snowdon race took place today 61. Descending Snowdon 62. Descending Snowdon 63. Descending Snowdon 64. Olof and Matt in a good pace 65. Lakes Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw 66. Y Llwedd 67. Almost.. 68. Descending to the reservoir 69. Joe and a waterfall 70. Olof and Matt 71. View up the mountain 72. Snowdon seen from the reservoir

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